We all have an inner critic who observes and comments on our thoughts and actions. This inner voice can be a source of useful advice or guidance when something we’ve done has turned out differently than we’d hoped. More often than not, however, our inner critic can become overly harsh, beating us up for our thoughts or actions rather than acting in a helpful way.
An example of the inner critic at work might be the internal dialogue that occurs after you have given a presentation at work. Helpful feedback might include noting that you might want to bring some water with you for future presentations, as your throat became dry during this one. You might also consider reviewing and practicing your speech a little more in order to feel more comfortable with the material.
The harsher side of the inner critic, on the other hand, might make comments such as, “I really messed that up,” “I’ll never be good at public speaking,” “I’m sure my boss will want to fire me now,” or, “I never thought I really deserved this job anyway.” And on and on …
Constantly finding fault with ourselves often stems from perfectionism. If the standards we set for ourselves are too high (such as when we expect ourselves to be perfect), we set ourselves up for failure. Being human inherently means having flaws. Expecting too much and berating ourselves when we don’t meet our excessive expectations can also lead to feelings of anxiety and depression. This can become an unhealthy cycle of unrealistic expectations (which can cause anxiety), leading to negative thinking regarding our inability to be perfect (which can cause feelings of depression).
So how can we break this negative cycle? The following are some steps to take if your inner critic has gotten out of control:
Being human inherently means having flaws. Expecting too much and berating ourselves when we don’t meet our excessive expectations can also lead to feelings of anxiety and depression.
- Become aware of your negative thinking. Over the next week, notice any negative thoughts as they occur. Jot down specific things you tend to criticize yourself about. You might be surprised to find out just how negative your thinking is. Becoming conscious of the negativity is the first step to being able to make changes.
- Challenge negative and distorted thoughts. Write down facts that contradict each of the negative thoughts you have had. For example, if one of your negative thoughts was, “I’m such a loser,” write down all the things you do well. Give yourself credit for the things you are good at, rather than just beating yourself up about something you did wrong. Try to catch your negative thoughts as they occur and challenge them right away. By doing so, you may start to change the pattern of negative thinking.
- Try looking at the situation from a different perspective. Rather than always focusing on the negative, consider if there is anything you can learn from your experience. Some of the most successful people in the world have failed on more than one occasion, but they tend to view these failures as opportunities to learn and grow instead of beating themselves up about them.
- Take note of your strengths. Try to pay more attention to all of the skills and strengths you have and remind yourself of the things you are good at. Sometimes we focus too much on our problems and never really acknowledge our achievements. Another helpful technique can be to remind ourselves of all of the things we are grateful for in our lives.
- Meet with a therapist. If you are having a hard time letting go of negative thoughts, working with a therapist can be helpful to learn to break ingrained patterns of negativity and bring more balance into your life. This can be especially helpful if you are also experiencing issues with anxiety and/or depression associated with your thoughts.
Although we all have an inner critic, we can learn to take back control and develop a new relationship with this unhelpful faultfinder. Rather than just allowing ourselves to be browbeaten, we can come to accept that while we will always have flaws, we can learn from our mistakes and continually grow and evolve as we journey through our lives.
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